One of the many issues which comes up related to the debate over the historical existence of Adam and Eve is the relation of Adam to Christ. Specifically: does undermining of the reality of Adam’s historical person undermine the work of Christ? Here, we’ll explore that question.
To be clear: we are not here exploring whether or not Adam really existed or whether there really was a real pair, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity sprang. Rather, the question is this: if one denies the historical Adam and Eve, does one undermine the Gospel of Christ? Whatever one thinks of the answer to the question of the historical persons, one should consider the answer to this question as well. There are many issues to be addressed, so this post will only touch on a few. Write a comment to let me know your own thoughts or other issues you think of.
In order to ask whether the history of Adam is a “Gospel” issue, we must first consider exactly what is meant by a “Gospel” issue. Definitions are important, and my own search for the meaning of this term yielded a whole range of definitions. Thus, I’m going to focus on a kind of working definition: to say something is a “Gospel” issue is to say that a specific doctrine, if untrue, undermines the Gospel [here meaning the glorious truth of salvation through Jesus Christ] and possibly one’s salvation itself. In the definitions I’ve found, and the use I’ve seen of this term, I believe this is an accurate understanding.
The Historical Adam as a Gospel Issue- Two Perspectives
The book, Four Views on The Historical Adam, provides a good background for exploring difference of opinion among evangelical scholars on the historicity of Adam. Most telling for our question is the young earth perspective and the theistic evolutionist response to it. William Barrick argues that the historical Adam is indeed a Gospel issue:
the biblical description of sin depends entirely on the historicity of Adam. He must be a real individual… in real time in a real place… [denial of the historical Adam] has serious implications for the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of Christ… [quoting John Mahoney]: “If the first man is not historical and the fall into sin is not historical, then one begins to wonder why there is a need for our Lord to come and undo the work of the first man.” That makes the historicity of Adam a gospel issue. (Barrick, 221-222)
Barrick’s argument seems pretty clear: if no historical Adam lived and acted in the Fall, then what reason is there for Christ to come as the second Adam and restore humanity to God? If Barrick’s argument is successful, it does seem to establish that the historical Adam is indeed vital to an understanding of the truths of salvation.
Denis Lamoureux takes up the challenge of restoring confidence in the possibility of the Gospel without an historical Adam. His argument is instead that when “behaviorally modern humans” showed up (about 50,000 years ago), they broke their relationship with God (he does not make explicit how this may have occurred). Moreover, he argues that Barrick’s argument is unsuccessful because it is a non sequitor–the conclusion simply doesn’t follow. Is it really the case, Lamoureux asks, that the reality of sin “depend[s] entirely” upon a historic Adam (Lamoureux, 229)? Barrick’s argument was simply to appeal to the requirement for sin to be an action against God (itself a disputable claim–does sin really require action or is it possible to have [actually] sinful inclination?–but we’ll set that aside). Lamoureux notes that saying there was no historical Adam does not undermine or remove the reality of sinful activity.
Moreover, Lamoureux argues that Barrick’s argument conflates the historicity of Adam with the historicity of the resurrection (ibid). Not only that, but:
The gospel is about Jesus Christ, not Adam. The gospel is about the reality of sin, not how sin entered the world. The gospel is about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, not specifically Adam’s sin. (ibid, 229)
Adam and the Gospel
So is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue? Returning to our definition, it seems to me fairly clear that one’s salvation is not determined by whether one believes in a historical Adam. The foundation of faith is Christ raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). Lamoureux is right to point out that the Gospel is ultimately the message of our salvation through Jesus Christ. The first part of our definition, however, asks whether the grounding for this salvation might be undermined. Romans 5:12-21 seems to demonstrate that Christ came to save humanity as the second Adam, and that a real person, Adam, really did sin and created the need for salvation.
Lamoureux’s counter to this is to argue that such statements are divine accommodation–that is, Paul did believe in a single, historical Adam, but that doesn’t mean there was one. The debate over this must wait for a different post, but for now I’ll just say that although I think there is divine accommodation in God’s revelation, I’m not convinced it involves allowing for very clearly false statements (such as the claim that Adam existed if Adam did not exist).
So if there is no historical Adam, it seems to me that this entails at least a denial of the specificity of the text in Romans 5. Thus, one could say that this undermines the basis for salvation. However, if one is willing to strip down to the bare bones of “Mere Christianity,” might one still preserve the Gospel? At this point I say yes. The basis for our salvation is belief in Jesus Christ, not belief in Adam. This does not mean that I think the historical Adam is unimportant or non-existent. Rather, I would say that anyone who does wish to say the historical Adam is necessary for salvation has yet to demonstrate that claim.
What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.
Check out other posts on the origins debate within Christianity.
William Barrick, “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).
Denis Lamoureux, “Response from the Evolutionary View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).
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